Ear training

What’s ear training? Simply put, it’s playing by ear. Learning a TV commercial jingle, a song on the radio, stuff off your fave metal album, a keyboard line. Take a music class in college and ear training will be part of it for sure.

Why is this important? It’s the quickest way to learn a song. Real good if you’re in a cover band. The ears are where it’s at. Even if you transcribe something and you’re off here and there, at least you’re LEARNING shit. That’s why I hate TAB. It’s cheating. Your eyes get the benefit, not your ears. Not to mention, the tab is more than likely wrong and done by a 14 year old in Nebraska.

I only trust TAB by: The writer of the music or Guthrie Govan. I’m sure there are great transcribists out there, but I’d rather just do it myself.

How did I fall into it? Why, I’m glad you asked! As a young teenage boy growing up in San Jose, California, music was looked down upon by my father. Typical business man mentality. “Waste of time, pipedream”. He sees the light now, but if I wanted to learn music back then, I’d have to do it all on my own.

young doug

So guitar lessons were out of the question. But I wasn’t going to let lessons get in the way of me learning. In high school I had friends show me stuff, and vice versa. Those friends were Dave Hull, Eric Fraser, Steve Lane, and Scot Miller (all still playing, teaching, etc). At home it was up to my turntable and myself. This is was 1980’s and there was no YouTube or Google, so self motivation was KEY.

I suggest if you’re going to give the ole’ ear training a crack, start with easy shit. KISS, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Dokken, Ratt, Ozzy, and Van Halen were the bands I cut my teeth on as a teen. That was what was on the radio (KSJO and KOME), and let’s face it, it was RAD!! So, I’d slap on a record, make sure the guitar was tuned to the song, and start. I’ll try and give you some tips as to what helped me.

You have to know the song real well. At least I did, I was way into being able to play it perfect to the album. I’d be able to sing all the lyrics, guitar lines, bass lines, solos, drum fills. You have to love it. If it feels like work, then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. Wait, it will feel like work. You have to be pretty committed to work on ONE SONG for countless hours. If you’re doing it because you think it’s cool or your friends are doing it, chances are you won’t stick with it. I’ve seen it happen millions of times. To some, playing music is a phase, and that’s fine. But your motivation levels will drop and your frustration levels will rise. I’m not saying it’s all roses, but if you don’t feel some sense of joy or accomplishment when you’ve mastered a song and can play it from beginning to end flawlessly, I dunno..sell your shit. Unless you’re a dabbler, and that’s okay too. But be realistic.

Be Patient. I spent HOURS on one song. When I was 18, I learned the solo to Dokken’s Tooth and Nail. Took me three hours to learn the solo. I spent the next three hours playing it in sheer joy. That was my reward. You need lots of free time for this to work. Best to bust a move whilst you’re still in school, the older you get, the more responsibilities you have, time goes out the window, and well…you’re fucked. Sad but true. I just quoted a Metallica song. KILL ME.

Don’t get discouraged. That shit ain’t gonna help anybody, especially you. Put down the guitar, come back to it later.


Where to start?

Here’s some songs I learned by ear as a kid, and played them at many backyard parties in San Jose with my step bro Troy under the band name of Knights. Yes, highly original.

KISS: Shock Me, Love Gun, Detroit Rock City, Parasite, Cold Gin, Calling Dr Love

AC/DC: The whole Back in Black album, Big Balls, Let There Be Rock.

VH: You Really Got Me, Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love, You’re No Good, Outta Love Again, I dunno man, the first four albums, songs and solos.

Dio: First two albums

Dokken: First two or three albums.

Ratt: Most of Out Of the Cellar.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Ozzy: Blizzard and Diary albums.

Gary Moore: Corridors and Victims albums

Iron Maiden: Number of the Best through to Somewhere in Time.

There. My teenage song list in a nutshell. Until June of 1987 when I heard Anthrax Among the Living for the first time. That’s a whole ‘nother blog.

Get crackin’.

Check out these two kids absolutely smash a Periphery song. They used a combination of ear and TAB. Tab to probably get in the ballpark, and ear to fine tune. Try all ear.  Go on. It can be done!

knightsGunderson HS Talent show, circa ’86


One response to “Ear training

  1. Pingback: Learning guitar today | Doug Steele

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